What Part One of the National Definition of a Zero Emissions Building Means for Housing

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) finalized Part 1 of a national definition of a zero emissions building, focused on operational carbon emissions. The definition includes three key criteria: energy efficiency, no on-site emissions and all-clean power sources.

The announcement is applauded by industry advocates as it will provide much-needed consistent guidance for real estate leaders, investors, and subnational governments seeking to drive toward a zero-emission building sector by 2050.

According to Rocky Mountain Institute, The flexibility and simplicity of the definition means that zero operating emissions buildings are economically feasible to build today, especially for new houses and apartments. Two of the three criteria, energy efficiency and zero onsite emissions, can be achieved at or below cost parity with built-to-code, dual-fuel homes today thanks to the low cost of all-electric construction and incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). And with 23 states housing over half of the US population already committed to 100 percent clean electricity, today’s homes can either invest in renewable power now or coast toward the goal as the grid grows cleaner.

The stakes are high, as billions of federal dollars, such as loans from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), condition or prioritize funding on achieving zero operating emissions. Private capital may follow suit as firms seek to catch up on progress toward climate goals, reduce transition risk, or prepare for anticipated climate-related financial disclosure requirements.

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